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Highway's traffic key to growth in Decatur
Mayor says plans in works to improve Alabama 20

By Evan Belanger
evanb@decaturdaily.com 340-2442

If Decatur is to capitalize on economic growth associated with out-of-state military units being transferred to Redstone Arsenal, it is vital that traffic flow on Alabama 20 be improved, said Mayor Don Kyle.

Kyle spoke to the Decatur Rotary Club on Monday, said plans are already in motion to increase safety and improve traffic flow on Alabama 20, but more is needed.

Important link

The state road provides an important link between Decatur and Madison County. It runs the length of the Decatur's annex in Limestone County and connects U.S. 31 with Interstate 565 and I-65.

More than 35,000 vehicles traverse it daily, according to the Alabama Department of Transportation.

Kyle proposes turning the state road into a controlled-access highway with just two access ramps. He also calls for the construction of multiple side streets north of Alabama 20.He said that will allow for easier traffic flow and for new developments on more than 3,000 acres north and south of the highway. Decatur officials annexed that property in the late 1980s.

"We'll hire a traffic-engineering firm, pending approval by the council, to do the managed-access planning for us, and help lay out the roadways and arteries," Kyle said. "They'll also help us to write the subdivision regulations to allow us to implement it in an efficient fashion."

Kyle said opening the area to development is vital if Decatur is to capture its share of benefits from more than 4,700 military jobs expected to come to the Tennessee Valley, part of the government's Base Realignment and Closure program.

Federal law requires the BRAC program be fully implemented by September 2011. The program is expected to bring at least $500 million in additional payroll to the Tennessee Valley.

"The city, the county and the chamber are at the forefront of the recruitment of those people, and it's extremely important that we continue with those efforts," Kyle said. "Predictions are that there will be at least that many more jobs indirectly with similar payrolls, and some say up to four times that many more jobs."

The City Council unanimously approved $15,000 worth of economic-impact studies for the area during its meeting Monday.

Kyle would not give a timeline for the proposed road projects. He said the DOT requires two traffic studies before it will consider approving any of the work, making it extremely difficult to lay out a precise timeline.

If the project becomes a reality, Kyle said, the development potential will also be advantageous for Decatur should a large industrial plant ever want to locate in the nearby Tanner community.

The Tennessee Valley Authority reportedly has commitments from enough property owners in that area to purchase up to 2,000 acres should a large company show interest in the area.

"The time to do this is now," Kyle said. "Not after the development has already started. We don't want to end up with a (Alabama) 280 situation with 40,000 or 50,000 cars a day trying to get through the area."

Other topics Kyle touched on in his address included city parks and recreation facilities, which he said were in fine shape and brining many tourist dollars to the area.

He also said the city is in good financial shape with spending up 5.8 percent since 2004 and revenue up 11 percent for the same period.

Kyle discussed his proposed vehicle impoundment ordinance for uninsured and unlicensed drivers and several other transportation and economic-development projects.

After the meeting, District 4 Councilman and City Council President Billy Jackson, district 1, said they were pleased with the mayor's speech.

"I think he did very good job of laying out where we are and right now, and I hope we keep moving forward in a positive direction," Jackson said.

One subject Kyle did not discuss in detail was the city's no-smoking ordinance, which takes effect Oct. 1. After the meeting, Kyle, who considered vetoing the ordinance for 10 days last month, said, "You're all dismissed to go outside and smoke if you wish."

Russell, who sponsored the ordinance, which bans smoking in all public places, said he was not disappointed the mayor had little to say about the controversial ordinance.

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